Toxic trolls: What does the body shaming of UP board exam topper say about our social media society?

Recently, a 15-year-old Class 10 board topper was ridiculed for her physical appearance, so much so that she regretted her top score. The incident has thrown light on the harmful nature of social media and its lasting scars, especially on teens.
Toxic trolls: What does the body shaming of UP board exam topper say about our social media society?
Express illustration: Mandar Pardikar

BENGALURU: Had I not been the topper, maybe I wouldn’t have been trolled so much. The video [of my achievement] went more viral because of my physical appearance,” says Prachi Nigam in a recent video. The 15-year-old Class 10 student, topped the Uttar Pradesh Board examinations of 2024 with 98.5 per cent but has been a victim to social media’s toxic trolls about her physical appearance.

While much support has poured in, the effect of the trolls not only leaves a life-long scar but also overshadows the teen’s academic achievements. This raises the question of how youngsters should deal with hurtful and often abusive comments. Kala Balasubramanian, a psychotherapist, points out that one of the reasons why these trolls affect people so much is because they are anonymous.

“In Prachi’s case, we are talking about a 15-year-old child. This is a period of development in a child, both physically and emotionally. It’s during this time that a child’s personality gets defined,” she says, adding, “A good support system is key; we don’t know how scathed she actually is. For a child who doesn’t have a good support system, it can impact him/her deeply with their whole self-esteem being affected.”

Divya Bhatia, a psychologist, highlights that social media is a double-edged sword. “It is not just about what you post but also about how it’s presented. For example, a shaving company’s print ad in support of Prachi read, ‘We hope you never get bullied into using your razor’. On one hand, it might sound like a compliment, but it is strategic placement of an advertisement. This kind of content has shifted the attention from her being a topper to her speaking about her physicality,” explains Bhatia.

While many may suggest ignoring and deleting comments that are irrelevant and abusive, there’s no doubt that these words put out in public are hurtful and linger in one’s mind. This is why Punitha Acharya, a dancer who also creates content along with her seven-year-old daughter Aryaa Sriram, has some ground rules she follows. “The child does not have access to the internet. I do show a few good and funny comments to encourage her but I put a heavy filter otherwise. Trolls can affect you personally but it is something that has to be dealt with,” says Acharya.

Sanjeevani Kothari, a social media manager, says that since these days people are consuming most of the information on social media, it does not take much time for trends to snowball into something big. “With the social media economy booming now, everything is content. Most people want to get on the bandwagon of anything that is trending. I am in no way saying that people who stood up for Prachi don’t mean it, but what I mean is that these are all the effects of social media,” explains Kothari.

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The New Indian Express